The BRACED states of the South-south geo-political zone comprising Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, forge a new regional economic cooperation agenda
Individually, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, referred to as the BRACED states, perhaps with the exception of maybe Edo State with marginal oil production, are richly endowed. And from their respective report cards, there is no gainsaying the fact that they have a lot to show for their earnings in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy to their people. But given their peculiar circumstances, common aspiration and challenge, they decided to bond together to pursue a common economic integration and cooperation agenda with the singular goal of exploring opportunities that would strengthen the economies of their states.
After the maiden edition of the South-south Economic Summit in Calabar, Cross River State, three years ago, its second edition with the theme Development, Investment and Security, held in Asaba, Delta State, recently, left no one in doubt as to the determination of the six governors to translate their common aspirations into reality for the benefit of the 25 million people of the region. This new driving force was emphasised by Joe Keshi, the director-general of the BRACED Commission, who said that the desire to pursue regional development was based on historical and economic benefits to the people of the region.
Keshi asserted that the ability of Nigeria to become one of the 20 largest economies of the world by 2020 would remain a mirage “without a significant and accelerated development in the states.” This, to him, therefore, underscores the need for the BRACED states to rethink their development agenda and policies for their collective development in order to optimise their resources, abilities and competitiveness. Expectedly, agriculture topped the agenda of the summit not only because of its potential to create jobs, reduce poverty and generate prosperity but the need to prepare the region for a period when oil would no longer be the mainstay of the economies of the BRACED states. Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, chairman, South-south Governors Forum, described the region as “a trillion naira goldmine” where opportunities for wealth creation and economic transformation abound. He said with 15 per cent of the nation’s population, the region symbolises a potential consumer market of immense significance.
The vision of the South-south states aligns with that of the federal government, which sees regional integration as a vehicle for development. Namadi Sambo, vice president, who represented President Goodluck Jonathan at the summit, hopes the region would develop its economy so that it would not be dependent on oil. “It is a fact that world oil reserve has limitations and it has become necessary that we use our present opportunity to create an economy devoid of oil for our future,” said Sambo.
John Kigara, chief executive officer, Rwandan Development Board, who represented Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, encouraged the BRACED states to, like Rwanda, which shares a history of conflict, put the past behind them and forge ahead. Kigara urged African businessmen to look for opportunities within the continent rather than overseas.
Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate and co-chair of the summit, an advocate for decentralisation of power, urged regional groupings with compatible ideas “to begin to call the shots and relegate the centre to its rightful dimension in any functioning democracy.” Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, believes that the BRACED states are on the right track as the “biggest thing we need to do is to diversify the economy massively.” But like the governors, Okonjo-Iweala is also worried about funding. The governors are looking up to her to intervene in lowering interest rates charged by the financial institutions which Emmanuel Uduaghan, governor of Delta State, says are not investment-friendly. Okonjo-Iweala said a strong financial sector was crucial to the financing of the real sector of the economy. “But the challenge we have is that the banking sector is struggling to finance the real sector of the economy. People cannot borrow at reasonable rates. When you talk to small and medium enterprises, they cannot get loans at reasonable rates,” she explained.
In seeking investments, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State sounded a note of warning to his colleagues. “We want investments, but what type of investment?” he queried. He said there are some investors he would not want in his state those he called briefcase investors. According to him, the investors he would welcome are those that will create jobs for millions of our people. He said the federal government must deliberately put in place an investment strategy that will translate to job-led growth.
Generally, the governors of the BRACED states believe private sector participation could help them actualise their developmental objectives. Deji Alli, chief executive officer, ARM Limited, who spoke on “BRACED Power,” proposed the formation of what he called “power pool” by the six states. A power pool, he explained, is a union that makes the six states to be connected in term of electricity because they already have infrastructure on ground. “By forming a power pool, you will be able to control your own power for your own people and the excess power can be sent back to the grid,” explained Deji.
The summit presented another opportunity for governors of the BRACED states to reiterate their call for true federalism and the need to review the present revenue allocation formula, which gives as much as over 52 per cent to the federal government. Chibuike Amaechi, chairman, Governors Forum, asked his colleagues, “Do we want true federalism, or do we just want revenue allocation? If we want to achieve true federalism, we appeal to ourselves that more funds be allocated to the states where the government is taking place.” According to the Rivers State governor, “The federal government doesn’t have anybody. Even the President is from Bayelsa, so we need to give Bayelsa governor more money to improve Bayelsa. That’s the position of the governors.”
At the end of the summit, the governors called for an urgent restructuring and unbundling of the federation and a review of the revenue allocation formula to give more powers, responsibilities and funding to the states and local governments as centres of growth. They called for a review of the current policies and regulations on power and gas to enable the states generate, transmit and distribute power to complement the efforts of the federal government and facilitate the utilisation of moribund capacity in the region, to promote and accelerate economic development in the South-south region.
The summit accepted the development of a Niger Delta Energy Corridor, a project with potential for connecting the people, industry and natural resources and creating jobs. The summit also resolved to accelerate the implementation of agricultural development initiatives as the region’s priority focal area complements the federal government’s transformation agenda on agriculture; develop integrated transport facilities in the region through a balanced development of railway, roads, waterways and airport facilities, as well as partnering the federal government and the private sector in the development of the Lagos-Calabar Railway Lines Project. They also called for the urgent completion of the East-West Road among other resolutions.
Godswill Akpabio, Akwa Ibom State governor, described as a paradox the fact that Nigeria is the only country in the world where development starts from the centre and then pales into insignificance when it gets towards the area that has the oil. He said the South-south region needs a lot of money for development to build quality infrastructure, explaining that “that is why we are talking about regional integration; the need for South-south states to come together, pool resources together and attract bigger capital. That way, we can now jump-start the development of what I may call a major regional economy.”
Having brainstormed for three days, Uduaghan says the next thing “is putting the building blocks in place.” Was the summit a talk shop? Imoke disagrees as he maintained that “the time has come to take charge of our destiny and the only way we can achieve that is by implementing the decisions, the recommendations and the outcome of the summit.”